Fahrenheit 2022: A Spasm of Book Banning

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In Florida, state education officials have rejected dozens of math texts because they allegedly include prohibited references to race; bookstores refuse to carry novels by JK Rowling; legislatures continue to create lists of prohibited books; and in scenes that would make Mencken’s ghost howl, smut-hunting illiterate across the country have risen up against public libraries.

In one Texas town, reports the Washington Postcensorious activists “have taken works as seemingly innocuous as the popular children’s picture book ‘In the Night Kitchen’ by Maurice Sendak off the shelves, closed library board meetings to the public and … stacked [them] with conservative appointees — some of whom did not even have library cards.”

With these actions, Llano joins a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate.

A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. Conservative activists in several states, including Texas, Montana and Louisiana have joined forces with like-minded officials to dissolve libraries’ governing bodies, rewrite or delete censorship protections, and remove books outside of official challenge procedures.

We are indeed in the midst of a spasm of book banning. The free speech advocates at PEN have documented 1,586 instances of individual books being banned in 86 school districts in 26 states. The group is also warning that bills banning “critical race theory” threaten free speech in schools.

“These bills appear designed to chill academic and educational discussions and impose government dictates on teaching and learning,” the report says. “In short: They are educational gag orders.”

“Taken together,” it continues, “the efforts amount to a sweeping crusade for content- and viewpoint-based state censorship.”

But, as I wrote earlier this year, the New York Times report includes this jarring line: “Invoking free speech, PEN is staking its approach on a principle that has lost its luster for some on the left, even while many on the right — including politicians advocating these bills — have invoked it as a mantra.”

Free speech has lost its luster for some on the left.

And, of course, thereby hangs a tale, but not an especially new one in the woolier precincts of the anti-liberal left, where speech codes, trigger warnings, and safe spaces have been a thing for some time now.

So, in Burbank, California, teachers “will no longer be able to teach a handful of classic novels” because of concerns about racism.

Until further notice, teachers in the area will not be able to include Harper Lee’s on their curriculum To Kill a MockingbirdMark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnJohn Steinbeck’s Of Mice and MenTheodore Taylor’s The Cay and Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

In today’s New York TimesSungjoo Yoon, a junior at Burbank High School, writes about the intellectual intolerance behind the proscription of those classic books, and notes:

One fact often overlooked in these disputes is that both conservatives and liberals engage in book banning and removal when it suits their political goals. Burbank is a liberal stronghold where the majority of voters in the last five presidential elections cast ballots for Democrats….

Cue the outrage for his flagrant act of bothsidesism. But the problem is real.

Just ask JK Rowling.

After the bestselling author of the Harry Potter series voice support for a British tax specialist fired for “transphobic tweets,” a number of independent bookshops announced that they would no longer carry any of her books.

In response to what they regard as hate speech, three mission-driven indie bookstores have decided to stop stocking Rowling’s books. While these stores acknowledge some impact upon their bottom line, all three owners speaking to P.W. emphasize that they have no obligation to provide shelf space to authors whose views contradict their personal philosophies and their stores’ missions.

Their position won support from progressive librarians, including one writer for the “Intellectual Freedom Blog,” published by the (check notes) “Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association,” who defended the unstocking of Rowling’s books.

“Once again,” she wrote of the Rowling book ban, “we have a case of private businesses choosing to not support a cause or belief that goes against their values…”

“Healing is the key. Independent bookstores are curators of literature. They are not libraries. If libraries were to remove Rowling’s books, that would certainly be considered censorship.”

But good note: the objection here is not to anything in the books themselves. The booksellers object to Rowling’s opinions that were expressed on Twitter and in a blog post — and decided to take their umbrage out on the books.

Sometimes the objections are more direct. Flashback to this episode of progressive illiberalism:

A few months ago, the American Booksellers Association issued this statement of performative groveling:

The “serious, violent incident” here was sending out copies of this book:

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by [Abigail Shrier]

The author of the offending book, Abigail Shrier, writes for the Wall Street Journal and is a graduate of Columbia College, Oxford University, and Yale Law School. Her book by her is obviously controversial, but it was named one of the best books of the year by The Economist and one of the best of 2021 by the Times of London.

But her book triggered opponents, who demanded that it be suppressed.

After receiving two Twitter complaints, Target stopped selling the book (a decision they later reversed . . . and then reversed again). Hundreds of Amazon employees signed a petition demanding the company stop selling the book.

Even the ACLU seemed to break bad on the idea that the book should be available in the marketplace of ideas. Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice, tweeted: “Abigail Shrier’s book is a dangerous polemic with a goal of making people not trans. . . . We have to fight these ideas which are leading to the criminalization of trans life again.”

He declared: “Stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on.”

Shrier commented: “You read that right: Some in today’s ACLU favor book banning. Grace Lavery, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, went further, tweeting: ‘I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book and burn it on a pyre.’

“This,” Shrier wrote, “is where leftist extremism, encouraged by cowardly corporations, leads.”

**

To be sure, there are crucial distinctions to be drawn here between state action and decisions by private actors. There is a legitimate distinction between the decisions made by public libraries and bookstores.

The First Amendment protects books only against government censorship. And so, the argument will go, there is no equivalence between the heavy-handed actions of legislatures and school boards and the opinions of individual booksellers.

This is all true.

But that misses the heart of the current danger: the absence of robust support for the idea that even offensive speech needs protection; that words are not violence; and that sensitivities should not be the basis of censorship.

Illiberal progressives have very different objections than the right-wing critics, but unfortunately they share the premise of the censor: that we need to be protected from dangerous/offensive ideas/books/speech.

As long as that is the case, the fight against illiberal attacks on books will continue to be a two-front war.

Don’t miss this piece in today’s NYT:

In statehouses and courtrooms across the country, as well as on right-wing news outlets, allies of Mr. Trump — including the lawyer John Eastman — are pressing for states to pass resolutions rescinding Electoral College votes for President Biden and to bring lawsuits that seek to prove baseless claims of large-scale voter fraud. Some of those allies are casting their work as a precursor to reinstating the former president.

The efforts have failed to change any statewide outcomes or uncover mass election fraud. Legal experts dismiss them as preposterous, noting that there is no plausible scenario under the Constitution for returning Mr. Trump to office.

But even though the efforts are preposterous, Maggie Haberman notes, the ongoing coup attempts “are fueling a false narrative that has resonated with Mr. Trump’s supporters and stoked their grievances. They are keeping alive the same combustible stew of conspiracy theory and misinformation that threatens to undermine faith in democracy by nurturing the lie that the election was corrupt.”

It has fed a cottage industry of podcasts and television appearances centered around not only false claims of widespread election fraud in 2020, but the notion that the results can still be altered after the fact — and Mr. Trump returned to power, an idea that he continues to push privately as he looks toward a probable re-election run in 2024….

“At the moment, there is no other way to say it: This is the clearest and most present danger to our democracy,” said J. Michael Luttig, a leading conservative lawyer and former appeals court judge, for whom Mr. Eastman clerked and whom President George W. Bush considered as a nominee to be the chief justice of the United States. “Trump and his supporters of him in Congress and in the states are preparing now to lay the groundwork to overturn the election in 2024 were Trump, or his designee of him, to lose the vote for the presidency.”

Bonuses:

… an apparent strategic surrender by the Biden Administration.

The Biden administration will no longer enforce a US mask mandate on public transportation, after a federal judge in Florida on Monday ruled that the 14-month-old directive was unlawful, overturning a key White House effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

This take seems right:

ICYMI: JD Vance’s Yale Law School roommate, Josh McLaurin, posted a screenshot of Vance’s thoughts about the Orange God King back in 2016.

“The ‘America’s Hitler’ bit is at the end,” he tweeted. “The public deserves to know the magnitude of this guy’s bad faith.”

1. Musk Twitter: Same Toilet, Different Plunger

JVL, in today’s bulwark:

ANDvidently some libs on Twitter are freaking out about the possibility of Elon Musk buying Twitter.

As a result of this freakout, a bunch of cons on Twitter proclaimed that by purchasing Twitter, Elon Musk will Make Twitter Great Again.

Everyone is wrong.

In the first place, they are wrong because Elon Musk probably isn’t going to buy Twitter any more than he was going to build an underground NY–Philly–Balt.–DC hyperloop.

2. Steve King Finds the Low Road Is a Lonely Road

Excellent read from Jim Swift on Steve King’s new deplorable memoir: Two years after his odious views cost him his seat in Congress, he wants to justify, blame, and excuse.

In walking through fire—a quasi-memoir released last month by Oliver North’s Fidelis Publishing—King sets out to demonstrate that he is not a racist. He also wants to write his political epitaph of him, which he rightly is worried the media will do for him.

Sorry, Congressman, you don’t have that option: You can choose your headstone, but you can’t choose your headline.

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